Issue 19, Summer 1958
Almost every morning lately the beginning of light, rainy day or fair, would fall upon the eyelids flatly, tiredly, and the arms and legs like blocks of stone and the ache deep in the bones for the secret of comfort buried inside the unsolicitous mattress, and she would know: I have had the dreams again. And really, there was no morning lately when she could say for a fact that the greater part of the hours of rest had not been squandered on those terrifying feats of acrobatics or on some round of energetic, shockingly inappropriate chores. There were entire nights chained to the mattress that crushed the spine like sheetmetal, each muscle tied into its separate hard knot, the soul (poor thing) flying far and away, consigned to its own devilish adventures. Where would it end? How long could it go on? I am losing, she thought, I have lost so much already: how much more will I be able to spare?
There were nights lost in climbing, slipping back, clambering out of bottomless pits; fools’ errands down the mazes of winding country roads, a burning letter she plucked from an RFD box that shriveled and charred her fingers, the flames fanning out to demolish a topless old Willys sedan with three dead babies stacked neatly on the wide front seat. But the worst was this: that even though safety catches had been installed on all the windows of her fourth-floor apartment and the door reinforced with a solid steel plate, she could never, night after night, rid herself of the notion that someone was about to break in.
Like as not, the summons would come when the night was half gone, with a sinister creak of a window being pried, or a sustained, intimate rapping on the steel-barred door. What good then to call, Who is there. Who are you? As if he or they waiting out there would give hack a name! Only, if she were able to slap and shake herself fully awake, she would get up stealthily and in her bare feet go about and turn on all the lights; sometimes first exploring the three rooms with a flashlight; looking into the closets, pushing aside the heavy bags reeking of mothballs where she still kept the old clothes that were not quite good enough for the city—until she was persuaded that no intruder had forced his entrance while she slept and hidden himself with the shabby cast-offs she could not bear to throw out.